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powers, by a single stroke of the pen, restored Java to the
Dutch.* Had the times been less exciting, it is probable that,
before surrendering Java to its former owners, some precautions
would have been adopted relative to the government and trade
of the island. No such precautions were adopted. Java was
unconditionally restored. In one day all the splendid reforms
of Mr Raffles were laid in ruins. Delivered up to the Dutch
authorities, they remorselessly went back to the old order of
things — a rigorous and grasping monopoly in trade, and a
tyranny which recognised no principle of humanity or justice.
What were the feelings of the rapidly-improving Javanese in
being thus delivered up to their old oppressors, may be more
easily conjectured than described. They gave a sullen submis-
sion, and " the island," observes a writer in 1830, " has been
nearly one scene of rebellion and bloodshed ever since it was
given to the Dutch."


After a prosperous voyage, Mr Raffles reached London on the
16th of July 1816, and one of his first acts after arrival was to
address the court of directors of the East India Company,
claiming an inquiry into his conduct during the period of his
administration in Java. He was particularly anxious that
this inquiry should be made, because he had reason to know-
that the court did not entirely approve of all that he had
done; and he had hoped that now that he was present in
Leadenhall Street to defend his measures, he would be able to
represent them to the court in a more favourable light. The

* It does not appear that the French had taken possession of the smaller
Spice Islands, which remained nominally under the Dutch, and retained
tlie Dutch flag, although for a number of years there was in reality no
Dutch nation. On the restoration of Java, therefore, the possession of
these islands, which had been unmolested by any European power, was
peacefully resumed.


particular cause of diiference between him and the court of
directors was as follovrs : — While in Java, he found it necessary
to keep up a considerable military force, and also to discharg-e
certain debts incurred by the old government ; and for these
purposes money was required. As, however, the island itself
could not at first supply as much as was needed, he was obliged
to make repeated drafts on the company's treasury in Bengal.
As these drafts were made at a time when the Bengal treasury
was low, and required to be replenished from London, the court
of directors began to entertain a bad opinion of Java, and to
contemplate its abandonment. These, among other circum-
stances, had led to the recall of Mr Raffles. Now, however, he
hoped to vindicate his conduct to the satisfaction of the court,
and to make it clear that Java, instead of being a bui'den to
the company, would have been a valuable acquisition ; and it
was with this view that he petitioned the court of directors for a
revision of his administration. The court, however, saw it ex-
pedient to pronounce no decision, farther than to express its
conviction that the measures adopted by Mr Raffles had " sprung
from motives perfectly correct and laudable."

In order to meet the growing demand for information about
Java, Mr Raffles rapidly prepared and published a history of the
island, which was published in May 1817, and which is a monu-
ment of his abilities and the extent of his knowledge. In the
same year Mr Raffles married a second time, his first wife having
died a short time before he left Java. About the same time also
he received from the prince-reg-ent the honour of knighthood. It
is a proof of the strong* and affectionate interest he took in Java,
that in this same year he paid a visit to the continent, for the
express purpose of having an interview with the king of Hol-
land respecting the future government of the island. The result
of this interview is thus communicated by Sir Stamford himself
in a letter to his friend Mr IMarsden. " I met with very great
attention in the Netherlands, and had the honour to dine with
the king last Monday : they were very communicative regarding'
their eastern colonies ; but I regret to say, that notwithstanding
the king himself and liis leading minister seem to mean well,
they have too great a hankering after profit, and immediate
profit, for any liberal system to thrive under them. The king,
while he admitted all the advantages likely to arise from culti-
vation, and assured me that the system introduced under my
administration should be continued, maintained that it was
essential to confine the trade, and to make such reg'ulations as
would secure it and its profits exclusively to the mother country.
I had an opportunity of expressing my sentiments to him very
freely, and as he took them in good part, I am in hopes they may
have some weight."

The title of Lieutenant-Governor of Bencoolen, in the island of
Sumatra; having been conferred on Sir Stamford by the court of



directors, " as a peculiar mark of the favourable sentiments which
the court entertained of his merits and services," he once more
set sail for the East Indies, there to renew, although in a different
spot, his career of active benevolence. He arrived at Bencoolen
on the 22d of March 1818.

Sumatra belong-s to the same group of islands as Java, from
which it is separated at its south-eastern extremity by a narrow
strait. Sumatra, however, is considerably the larg-er, being* more
than 900 miles long-, and varying from 140 to 210 miles in
breadth, having thus an area larger than England, Scotland, and
Ireland together. But though larger, Sumatra is not so impor-
tant an island as Java. " From the hand of God," says Sir
Stamford Raffles in a letter written after he had formed an ac-
quaintance with the island, " Sumatra has received perhaps
higher advantages and capabilities than Java ; but no two coun-
tries form a more decided contrast in the use which has been
made of them by man. While Sumatra remains in a great part
covered with its primeval forests, and exhibiting but scattered
traces of human industry, Java has become the granary and the
garden of the East. In the former we find man inactive, sullen,
and partaking of the gloom of the forests, while in the latter he
is active and cheerful," One-half of the large island of Sumatra
is flat and level ; the other is mountainous ; and the products of
these two parts are of course different, although the principal pro-
ducts of the island may be said to be rice, tobacco, hemp, coffee,
sag'o, camphor, various spices, and innumerable kinds of fruit.
From no other country are such large quantities of pepper exported.

Sumatra, like Java, is peopled by a branch of the Malay race ;
the inhabitants, however, receive various names, according to the
districts which they occupy, and present some differences of lan-
guage, manners, and physiognomy. In some parts of the island
the natives exhibit considerable evidences of civilisation ; but upon
the whole, the Sumatrans are far inferior people to the Javanese.
The political condition of Sumatra is much the same as that of
Java ; that is, it is subject partly to the Dutch, partly to inde-
pendent native princes. Instead, however, of there being only
two independent native states, as in Java, in Sumatra there are
five such, namely, the kingdoms of Acheen, Slack, Indragiri,
lambie, and Battas, situated in the northern half of the island.
The rest of the island, that is, the southern half, constitutes the
Dutch colonj^, and is governed for the most part by native
regents of the different districts under the Dutch authorities.

In 1818, the only part of Sumatra which was not included in
the Dutch colony, or in the native territories above mentioned,
was Bencoolen, a small district in the south-west of the island,
extending from the coast a number of miles into the interior,
and belonging to Great Britain ; and it was of this district that
Sir Stamford Raffles was appointed governor. The British
settlement of Bencoolen, or Fort Marlborough, was founded in



1685 by the orders of the East India Company, who conceived it
would be an advantag-eous post in the pepper trade. It never,
however, answered their expectations. Whether owing to its
natural want of capabilities, or to the mismanag-ement of those
who successively took charg-e of it, or to both of these causes,
Bencoolen proved a very unprofitable settlement. The cost of
maintaining" the establishment amounted to little less than
£100,000 a-year, while all the return it made was a few tons of
pepper. In 1801, the establishment was reduced, and an attempt
made to introduce a more economical system of manag-ement
under the direction of the British resident, Mr Parr ; but the
chang-e was so injudiciously effected, that a great part of the
population was thrown out of employment, and the natives
became so infuriated as to attack the g'overnment-house, and
murder Mr Parr. Severe measures of retaliation were adopted
hj the British, and the consequence was, that the whole district
was laid waste ; the trees, gardens, and houses being' destroyed,
and the cattle almost exterminated. '' This," writes Sir Stam-
ford Raffles a few days after his arrival at Bencoolen, " is,
without exception, the most wretched place I ever beheld. I
cannot convey to you an adequate idea of the state of ruin and
dilapidation which surrounds me. What with natural impedi-
ments, bad government, and the awful visitations of Providence
which we have recently experienced in the shape of repeated
earthquakes, we have scarcely a dwelling in which to lay our
heads, or wherewithal to satisfy the cravings of nature. The
roads are impassable ; the hig-hways in the town overrun with
rank grass ; the government-house a den of ravenous dogs and
polecats. The natives say that Bencoolen is now a dead land.
In truth, I could never have conceived anything half so bad."
Not discouraged with this dismal prospect, the writer proceeds —
" We will try and make the place better ; and if I am well sup-
ported from home, the west coast may yet be turned to account.
You must, however, be prepared for the abolition of slavery,
the emancipation of the country people from the forced cultiva-
tion of pepper, the discontinuing of the gaming- and cock-fight-
ing farms, and a thousand other practices equally disgrace-
ful and repugnant to the British character and government. A
complete and thorough reform is indispensable, and reductions
must be made throughout,"

Paltry as was the appointment of Sir Stamford to the gover-
norship of Bencoolen in comparison with that of Java, his situa-
tion was not by any means unimportant, for it imposed on him
the superintendence of the adjoining seas. Along with Java,
the Dutch had recovered the entire sovereignty of the IMalayan.
Archipelago, of which during the alienation of Java they had
been deprived. There was every probability, therefore, that they
would renew their old illiberal policy in that quarter of the world,
using the power which they possessed over the natives of the



various islands to prevent them from maintaining' an inter-
course with the ships of other nations ; and, in particular, it
was expected that the}'' would renew their attempts to injure
the trade of the British in these remote seas. The only stations
which the Eng-lish retained in that quarter of the world were
Penang, off the western coast of Malacca, and Bencoolen, in
Sumatra, Of course, then, these two settlements derived a
peculiar importance from such a consideration, being", as it were^
watch-towers from which the English could observe the move-
ments of the Dutch. Bencoolen especially was regarded as a
valuable station in this point of view ; and among the instruc-
tions furnished to Sir Stamford Raffles by the court of directors,
before leaving- England, was one to the following- effect : — " It is
hig-hly desirable that the court of directors should receive early
ani constant information of the proceedings of the Dutch and
other European nations, as well as of the Americans, in the
Eastern Archipelag-o. The court therefore desire that you will
direct your attention to the object of reg'ularly obtaining- such in-
formation, and that you will transmit the same to them by every
convenient opportunity, accompanied by such observations as may
occur to you, whether of a political or commercial nature."

Besides, therefore, his particular duties as governor of Ben-
coolen, Sir Stamford had to cast his eye over the whole Archi-
pelag^o, from the Bay of Bengal as far east as New Guinea, and
conceive himself charg-ed with the superintendence of the British
interests in these seas. Let us first attend to his proceeding's in
Bencoolen, and more g-enerally in the island of Sumatra.

In some respects, the spirit in which Sir Stamford commenced
his reforms at Bencoolen was the same as that which had pre-
sided over his administration in Java. " He devoted," says Lady
Baffles, " his whole time on his first arrival to the examination
of the records of the settlement, the state of the country and
people in its immediate neig-hbourhood, and endeavoured to
collect the European inhabitants and the native chiefs around
him, that he might become personally acquainted with their
habits and manners. The same sj'stem of excluding' the natives
from the society of Euroi^eans had been pursued in this settle-
ment as in most other parts of India. Sir Stamford at once
broke down this barrier, and opened his house to the hig-her class
of natives on all occasions. During the whole period of his resi-
dence in Sumatra, he had some of them present during- the hours'
of social intercourse. The result of this it is needless to dwell
upon. The chiefs and people considered him as their best friend
and adviser, yielded to his opinion upon all occasions, and har-
mony and g-ood-will prevailed throug-hout the settlement." Yet
Sir Stamford found it necessary to pursue a policy in Sumatra in
many respects totally different from that which he had pursued
in Java. " I have found in the Sumatrans," he says, " a very dif-
ferent people from the inhabitants of JS,Va : they are, perhaps, a



thousand years behind them in civilisation, and consequently re-
quire a very different kind of government. In Java, I advocated
the doctrine of the liberty of the subject and the individual rights
of man — here I am an advocate for despotism. The strong- arm
of power is necessary to bring* men tog'ether, and to concentrate
them in societies, and there is a certain stage in which despotic
authority seems the only means of promoting civilisation.
Sumatra is in a great measure peopled by innumerable petty
tribes, subject to no general government, having little or no in-
tercourse with each other, and man still remains inactive, sullen,
and partaking of the gloom which pervades the forests by which
he is surrounded. No European power seems to think it worth
its while to subdue the country by conquest, which would be the
shortest and best way of civilising it ; and therefore all that can
be done is to raise the importance of the chiefs, and to assist in
promoting the advance of feudal authority. This once estab-
lished, and g'overnment being* once firmly introduced, let the
people be enlightened, and the energies which will then be called
lorth in reg'aining- a portion of their liberties will be the best
pledge of their future character as a nation." What a healthy,
practical mind we see manifested in such sentiments as these.
He found it necessary in Java to abolish all remains of feudal
power, and accordingly he abolished them ; in Sumatra, on
the other hand, he found it necessary to strengthen the feudal
tie, and accordingly he strengthened it. A less practical man
would have persisted in appl^'ing to Sumatra the system which
he had found to work well in Java, without any reg'ard to the
diiference of the two countries.

One of Sir Stamford's first acts in Bencoolen was to abolish
slavery. " There were at this time in Bencoolen," says Lady
Raffles, " upwards of two hundred African slaves, most of them
born in the settlement, who were the children of slaves originally
purchased by the East India Compan}^: they were considered
indispensable for the duties of the place, and it was asserted that
they were happier than free men. They were employed in load-
ing and unloading the company's ships, and other hard work.
No care having been taken of their morals, many of them were
dissolute and depraved, and the children in a state of nature,
vice, and wretchedness." These two hundred negroes Sir Stam-
ford immediately set at liberty. Assembling them all before a
meeting- of the native chiefs, he exi:)lained the views of the British
government with reg-ard to the abolition generally, and g-ranted
to each negro, man and woman, a certificate declaring him or her
to be for ever free, and at liberty to labour for wages like other
free persons. The negro children were at the same time assembled
at the g-overnment-house ; and as a considerable degree of pre-
judice existed against them, Lady Raffles selected one of them,
^' a little bright-eyed girl eight years old, whom she put under the
charge of a European nurse. She proved a most docile, aifec-



tionate little attendant ; and Lady Raffles, on leaving" Sumatra,
had the pleasure of g'iving her a dower on her marriag-e."

Another class of unfortunate persons who attracted Sir Stam-
ford's benevolent notice were the convicts — criminals who, since
the year 1797, had been transported from Bengal to Bencoolen.
These amounted to about five hundred in all at the period of Sir
Stamford's arrival in Bencoolen. Sir Stamford thought that
something might be done for this unfortunate class of men. " It
is desirable," he said, in communicating his designs to the court
of directors, " that some discrimination should be exercised in
favour of those who show the disposition to redeem their cha-
racter. I would suggest the propriety of the chief authority
being vested with a discretionary power of freeing such men as
conduct themselves well from the obligations of service, and per-
mitting them to settle in the place, and resume the privileges of
citizenship. It rarely happens that any of those transported
have any desire to leave the country : they form connexions in
the place, and find so many inducements to remain, that to be
sent away is considered by most a severe punishment. I propose
to divide them into three classes — the first class to be allowed
to give evidence in court, and permitted to settle on lands
secured to them and their children ; but no one to be admitted to
this class until he has been resident in Bencoolen three years : the
second class to be employed in ordinary labour: the third class,
or men of abandoned and profligate character, to be kept to the
harder kinds of labour, and confined at night. In cases of parti-
cular good conduct, a prospect may be held out of emancipating
deserving convicts from further obligation of services on condi-
tion of their supporting themselves, and not quitting the settle-
ment." These measures were afterwards carried into effect, and
with great success : a large body of persons, till now degraded,
soon became useful labourers and happy members of society.

These changes Sir Stamford was able to effect directly by the
exercise, of his own authority as lieutenant-governor. Certain
other important reforms which he effected at the same time, and
which concerned the native Sumatrans more particularly, he was
able to accomplish only by means of the native chiefs. Having
gained their confidence by his kindness, he had no difficulty in
obtaining their co-operation. All former treaties between the
British president in Bencoolen and the native chiefs were an-
nulled, and a new agreement entered into, whereby authority
was given to the company to administer the affairs of the settle-
ment according to justice and good policy. The cultivation of
pepper, which had hitherto been compulsory on the natives, was
now declared optional : they were to be at liberty to cultivate
either pepper or any other kind of produce which they might
prefer, and which their lands might be capable of growing ; Sir
Stamford having too strong a faith in the principle of demand
and supply, to entertain any doubt that a proper quantity of



pepper would continue to be cultivated even after liberty had
been g-iven to cultivate anything" else. Sir Stamford also abo-
lishedT all the gambling establishments in Bencoolen, from which
hitherto the government had derived a considerable revenue.
One of the most remarkable characteristics of the Sumatrans,
as of all the other Malays, is their love for g-aming ; and in Ben-
coolen the propensity had grown so strong", as to occupy half the
time of the natives, deteriorate their character, and diminish the
prosperity of the settlement. The abolition by Sir Stamford
Raffles of all public gaming-houses, accompanied as it judiciously
was by the abolition of the compulsory cultivation of pepper,
produced an immediate and sensible effect : the time which the
Sumatrans formerly consumed in gaming of various kinds, they
now applied to better purpose, feeling that their industry was
at their own disposal. Since the murder of Mr Parr, the native
inhabitants had been subjected to various marks of disgrace, such
as being prohibited from wearing the crees and other weapons
in the town of Marlborough ; but all these regulations were
rescinded by Sir Stamford, as having nothing but an injurious
effect. At the same time he dismissed the body-guard which
used to attend the person of the British resident at Bencoolen,
and greatly reduced the military force. The natives were highly
gratified by these tokens of confidence, and did their best to
show that the confidence was not misplaced.

After a short residence at Bencoolen, during which he was
engaged in effecting the above-mentioned reforms, Sir Stamford
set out on an excursion into the interior of the island, with a view
to extend his acquaintance with the Sumatrans, their customs,
religions, and character, as well as to gratify his enthusiasm
as a naturalist. The route which he attempted w^as considered*
impracticable ; but he succeeded in penetrating the island, cross-
ing the mountains, and reaching Palembang* on the opposite coast.
He also penetrated northward, cultivating the acquaintance of the
natives wherever he went, and acquiring an immense store of new
and valuable information. The description he has g'iven of these
journeys imparts a striking* idea of his adventurous spirit and love
of scientific pursuit. Ascending mountains, crossing rivers, and
penetrating forests, the party were often startled by the approach
of elephants and other unwelcome visitors. On one occasion, in
passing through a forest, they were much annoyed with leeches,
which got into their boots and covered their legs with blood.
The most important botanic discovery made throughout the
journey was that of the Rajjlesia, perhaps the largest and
most magnificent flower in the world. It measured across,
from the extremity of the petals, rather more than a yard ; the
nectarium was nine inches wide, and as deep, and was estimated
to contain a gallon and a half of water ; the weight of the whole
was fifteen pounds. In alluding to this magnificent plant, Sir
Stamford observes in a letter to a friend hi England, "There



ss nothing" more striking- in the Malayan forests than the gran-
deur of the veg-etation. The magnitude of the flowers, creepers,
and trees, contrasts strangely with the stunted, and, I had almost
said, pigmy vegetation of England. Compared with our fruit
trees, your largest oak is a mere dwarf. Here we have creepers
and vines entwining larger trees, and hanging suspended for
more than a hundred feet, in girth not less than a man's body,
and many much thicker ; the trees seldom under 100, and gene-
rally 160 to 200 feet in height."

In most of his excursions. Sir Stamford was accompanied by
Lady Raffles, who entered warmly into his pursuits, and delighted
an exploring the romantic coasts of the Spice Islands. '' It is
impossible," observes this accomj)lished lady in one of her letters,

Online LibraryWilliam ChambersChambers's miscellany of useful and entertaining tracts (Volume v.5-6) → online text (page 40 of 59)